The right to a safe and protected environment and the commitment to a sustainable future are enshrined in the South African Constitution. While many communities in South Africa are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, civil society engagement in environmental governance remains limited.
Many South Africans believe that Parliament is the institution where important social and environmental justice issues should be heard, and yet how many of us know who our parliamentary representatives are and how to engage with them?
This observation led Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), the African Climate Reality Project (ACRP), the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and the Ekurhuleni Environmental Organisation (EEO) to launch Action 24 – a project which is co-funded by the European Union.
Action 24 aims to foster more bottom-up, participatory decision-making processes on environmental issues, and encourage citizens to seek effective representation from the legislative institutions, using them to improve service delivery by the government.
“It’s about improving participation of the public and decision-making in South Africa, especially on environmental issues, and trying to make the decisions that are being made more responsive and in line with what the people want,” says Project Manager, Noelle Garcin, representing FTFA and ACRP. “People have not engaged with the legislatures enough, and we see now that the government has not been held accountable and is unresponsive to the public demand for better governance and better decision-making in a number of sectors.”
“It’s to get the public involved, the ones that want to come out and challenge the government on issues regarding environmental governance. This is the ideal platform to get them involved and connected, as much as skilling them in a way that they can represent and carry themselves independent of SDCEA – and it’s a skill that will be left in the hands of communities that they can learn from and pass on from generation to generation,” says Shanice Gomes, Project Officer representing SDCEA.
The project will be targeting the legislatures in four provinces (Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and Western Cape) and national Parliament, with a focus on the committees and units dealing with environmental issues and public participation. Our other target groups are local civil society organisations active in the environmental sector, and local media.
“One procedure we are looking at is we want to engage both the legislature and community leaders in terms of how we will work together, and promote much broader communication,” says Sandile Nombeni, Project Officer representing EEO, “The project will give better living conditions for communities with much more efficient public participation, and at the same time we want our legislatures to be active and engaging with our communities in a very meaningful way.”
Sustainability, climate change, gender equality, women’s empowerment, and youth engagement are crosscutting principles underpinning the project’s strategy.
“Particularly in relation to youth there is a need for increased knowledge and awareness on the legislature, and better engagement and dialogue between civil society organisations that are specific in terms of their focus on youth and women,” says Thuli Montana, Project Officer representing SAIIA.
“We are going to work on two fronts. On one side we want to empower organisations, preferably local organisations, grassroots, to understand and know how to engage and push their agenda with the legislatures. On the other side we will also try to engage with the legislatures and encourage them to improve their public participation processes. We want more openness, more communication on what they are doing and making sure that they understand their mandate from that perspective,” says Garcin.
In many South African provinces it is problematic that legislatures are not accustomed to being approached by the public. Action 24 aims to change that by building positive relationships with those institutions.
“We will also be running campaigns to advocate for a number of issues that we have identified that relate to environmental problems or climate change – and that will take us to 2020,” says Garcin.
The project started in January 2018 and will take place over a period of 30 months. The official launch event took place in Cape Town on 20 February as part of a wider initiative supported by the European Union, which will see several organisations foster citizen activism across South Africa for increased accountability and good governance.